The summery hooks and warm lyrics of "I Melt with You" gave listeners the impression that Modern English were an upbeat pop act, but the single, first released in 1982, was actually an anomaly in the band's early discography.
Formed in Colchester, England in 1979, Modern English were originally a punk group called the Lepers. Featuring Robbie Grey (vocals, guitar), Gary McDowell (guitar), and Richard Brown (drums), the Lepers performed mainly at parties. After Mick Conroy (bass) and Stephen Walker (keyboards) joined, they changed their name to Modern English, self-released their 1979 debut single, and were subsequently signed to 4AD. Inspired by the stylish gloom of Joy Division and Bauhaus, Modern English released the 1980 singles "Swans on Glass" and "Gathering Dust" and followed them in 1981 with debut LP Mesh & Lace. Boiling with raw anger, dissonant rhythms, and weird noises, the album confused some critics while mesmerizing others. It reached number five on the U.K. indie chart.
A year later, the band streamlined their sound. Though After the Snow featured the driving and slashing post-punk classic "Life in the Gladhouse," the album was comparatively softer and brighter, exemplified by the open-hearted "I Melt with You." In early April the following year, that single entered the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. -- where it was released on Sire -- and peaked a couple weeks later at number 78. Near that month's end, the romantic teen comedy Valley Girl was released in the States with the song featured prominently, and its video was placed in rotation on MTV. An enduring minor hit of the new wave era, "I Melt with You" gradually nudged After the Snow into U.S. sales in excess of 500,000 copies, acknowledged in 1989 with a gold certification from the RIAA.
Modern English's commercial momentum stalled with 1984's Ricochet Days, their last recording for 4AD in the U.K., and 1986's Stop Start, their last work for Sire in the U.S. The band split following the release of the latter, but Grey and Conroy resurfaced in 1990, on the TVT label, with Pillow Lips. That July, a re-recorded version of "Melt with You" managed to slightly eclipse the original by peaking at number 76 on the Hot 100. Label conflict prompted another period of inactivity, and ended with the Grey-driven Everything's Mad, released in 1996 on Imago. Grey continued to lead Modern English and, in 2009, was reunited with the majority of his fellow original bandmates. Soundtrack, which Grey had recorded earlier in the decade with longtime Modern English producer Hugh Jones, was issued on Darla the following year. Revitalized, Modern English toured extensively, then recorded Take Me to the Trees, produced and mixed by mate and fellow 4AD alum Martyn Young (Colourbox, M/A/R/R/S). The album was released in early 2017. ~ Michael Sutton & Andy Kellman, Rovi